“What the hell am I doing here?” I ask myself swallowing another mouthful of water as my screaming lungs gasp for air. For the first time the thought of not completing a swim in over ten years of ocean swimming enters my mind. This swim is bloody tough, it’s really tough, hard yakka!” As I contemplate the thought of not finishing the course I force my body to push on. Come on, keep going! Don’t let all that training be in vain! Choppy, swirling, rippling swells, agitating, like being in a large scale top loading washing machine, strongish wind forcing me back, I’m expending vital energy, I’m going nowhere and I’m struggling to complete the first leg. “Why do I do it?’ I question myself as I grab the rope of one of the marker buoys for a breather. Do my fellow competitors feel the same as I do?
It’s my first swim of the ocean swimming season, I’m four hundred metres from shore with another eight hundred to go and I’m struggling. The water didn’t look this difficult from the shore but the ocean can be very deceptive. It may look unchallenging but things can quickly change once you hit the water. You cannot see the currents or know the whole or partial extent of the forces of nature until you are out there and swimming. What looked comparatively easy suddenly becomes very difficult.
Five hours earlier my alarm had woken me for an early start to Anglesea for this year’s “Rock2Ramp” 1.2km ocean swim. Opening the blinds with some trepidation I was disappointed to see an overcast sky with misty dizzling rain. My hopes immediately diminished as this was not the start to the day I was anticipating. Unfortunately it put me into a negative frame of mind. Thoughts about what could potentially go wrong flashed before me. Ocean was sure to be cold, conditions not conducive for a good swim, sharks would be about, I would drown, cramps, goggles break and so on. Had to force myself to have breakfast to try and take my mind away from these thoughts. Muesli with bananas and honey but would you know it, no milk! A quick trip into town made my mood even darker. And the rain got heavier. The signs obviously were not good.
I reach the end of the first leg, stop, look ahead, and see sea. Swell is being whipped up increasingly by the wind. Bobbing like a cork I look for the next line of markers. A couple of swimmers splash by and provide me with a “sighter” for the direction I should be heading. As long as they are not off course and going the right direction I decide to tag along. As I breathe to the right of my body I keep them in my vision by swimming to the left of them. But they seem to be struggling as much as I am. Relax I tell myself, think of your rhythm, get the breathing right, nice and easy does it, forget the water, play one of my mind games such as remembering the words to “Desolation Row”. “They’re selling postcards of the hanging, they’re painting the passports brown,” so far so good. I’ve forgotten about the water but I’m getting stressed about the lyrics! Another breather for a sighter but I’m way off course as pointed out by a safety officer on a board yelling out to me to veer sharp left. “The beauty parlour is filled with sailors, the circus is in town” ; doesn’t sound quite right, “parlour or parlour’s?”. I sing again from the start. Surprisingly, my rhythm returns and as I look up the line of markers are still to my right so I’ve remained on course, thank goodness! Bob’s working for me!
Finally I reach the marker to turn for the last leg. This has got to be easier now with wind and swell behind me so hopefully not as much effort required to get into the beach. But as I quickly realise this was not so. A current is against me, not too strong but strong enough for me feel the pain of the extra effort required to pull through it. With so much energy already expended there’s little left in the tank and the shore still looks an eternity away. I start singing “Positively 4th Street”, probably my favourite Bob song, but realise it is not really the positive song I should be singing in the circumstances. For some inexplicable reason I start singing “we’re happy little vegemites”; crazy, my mind is finally going! Then, remarkably the sandy bottom seems not as deep. Don’t tell me I’m nearly there. It’s an effort to raise my head then joy, another fifty metres, two laps of the pool and I’m there. Lastly it’s the mad dash to the beach. Where the renewed energy comes from I’m buggered if I know but it does. Arms rotate faster, legs kick harder, sandy bottom gets shallower and thoughts of the final sprint to the finish line are envisaged. I catch some swimmers ahead of me as our feet touch the sandy bottom for the first time in over twenty minutes. Yeah, I’m there but there’s no last sprint for me. Legs are like lead and my head is spinning so it’s a nice easy stroll to the timing gates. No last minute heroics for me. As I stagger through the gates a spunky looking helper asks me if I would like to be unzipped. Of course I do but I’m still gasping for breathe so I attempt nodding hoping she understands my pitiful body language. She does and she also helps to pull my arms out of the sleeves of my wetsuit which no way known could I have done by myself. The pennies were all well and truly spent by then and there was nothing left in the old tank. Someone offers a bottle of water that is gladly accepted and guzzled down, a banana follows and then the moment of utter relief has arrived. Finished, the race is over for me, I’m ecstatic, over the moon. I’ve met the challenges of the ocean and overcome them. I kept going when I could have easily given up and pulled out so I’m rightly proud of my efforts. All my swimming mates concur that this swim was probably the toughest one we had experienced in the many years of participating in ocean swimming challenges.
Exhausted we showered under a single dribbling nozzle in the changerooms then to the car and home. Our exploits in the swim were bantered about and a sense of well being and achievement rose to their highest levels as we drove on. Stopping at the Birregurra General store for a well deserved burger and chips,which went down an absolute treat, we soon felt our efforts were all worthwhile. I must admit I still wonder why we do it though. Point Lonsdale next week and it starts all over again!